If one uses the term(s) "analog" and/or "analog mastering", it should be defined what it means in this special case. Except in case of analog media like e.g. tapes as sound sources and mastering to analog tapes or direct to vinyl disc all post productions start with digital data and the results are digital media.
Hence I prefer for my works the term "analog processing". It means the use of analog devices (like channel strips or other) for audio processing, maybe additional to high-class digital plug-ins. In many cases it makes the sound more lively – sometimes only because the program material runs through the analog device without usage of processing functions. However, this does not apply to all cases, so that the positive effect must always be subjected to a case-by-case examination.
What is often perceived as analog warmth or "saturation" of the sound is due to harmonic distortions caused by the signal flow through the analog components only, without the use of filters, compression or other functions. So that the transparency of the source material not will be corrupted, highest-quality components must be used.
This also includes the ADCs and DACs which are needed to integrate the analog devices into the signal chain. In that sense, as DACs and ADCs, I use two UA 2192 (Universal Audio) equipped with high-quality analog components that give the sound a little more "character", compared to other high quality DACs with extremely neutral sound. The sound of the UA 2192 is warm with a very subtle emphasis of lower mids, making it ideal for recording and analog processing – tasks where such coloration may even be desirable. The UA 2192, which handles both analog-to-digital conversion and back-to-digital A/D conversion, is internally clocked and runs as the master clock for the DAW and the monitor DAC. In contrast to the use of multiple converter devices which are clocked from an external master clock, in this case an optimal signal processing will be achieved.
For the actual analog chain I use two Focusrite channel strips ISA 430 MKII, each equipped with 3 independent filters, a compressor/limiter unit (optional opto or VCA), a de-esser etc. – awesome units for this purpose.
In some cases I also use the filters and compressors - the latter usually for a very gentle parallel compression. In this case, I feed the source signal (if necessary, filtered) via the inputs (provided in both mono-channel strips) as a side-chain signal, which causes 100% identical control signals for the left and the right channel. Thus, the compressor units in both channel strips operate virtually as a stereo compressor (in link mode), while at the same time the filter units can operate in dual mono mode if required. The following image shows a typical setting of the two ISA 430s for such a scenario.
Analog processing needs more technical effort and especially more time (with effects to the pricing compared to the standard mastering - see below).
Imagine that all processed analog audio must be re-recorded before further digital processing (of course in real time!). And it must be verified very accurately, because the appearance of unnoticed audio errors cannot be excluded. The probability of e.g. clicks as a result of sync errors (jitter or framing errors) is very small, if both interfaces (DAC and ADC) for connecting the analog processor are integrated in the same device (like the UA 2192).
Before a binding purchase order for an analog processing will be one or more samples of possible analog processing available for free - as a basis to decide, what kind of processing should be done.
Analog processing may be an optional component of standard mastering with the following surcharges:
- Single tracks: from 10,- (11,90)* up to 30,- (35,70)* EUR
- Album incl. up to 18 Tracks (standard price): 200,- (238,-)* EUR
Attended analog processing session: 40,- (47,60)* EUR per hour
*) including 19% VAT